Local pastor works to become Army chaplain

Holly Viers • Aug 13, 2017 at 4:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Steve Hopkins has come full circle.

After growing up in Kingsport and leaving to join the military, Hopkins has returned home to serve as pastor of Kendricks Creek United Methodist Church in Colonial Heights.

He hasn’t given up on his military background, though. While serving as pastor of the church, Hopkins is also working to become a chaplain in the Army.

“I think that we have a tendency to think people just go out and do what they do in the military, or the government provides them everything they need, but there’s something more that people as human beings need,” Hopkins said. “So that’s kind of why I want to do this — because people need it.”

After graduating from Sullivan South High School in 2008, Hopkins made the move to New York to attend the U.S. Military Academy, also known as West Point.

While at the academy, Hopkins met his future wife, who was also enrolled at the school. After they graduated, the couple got married and served four years on active duty before moving to Kingsport in May of last year. Hopkins started pastoring at Kendricks Creek two months later.

Hopkins said becoming a chaplain first crossed his mind when he felt God calling him to do something bigger.

“When I was down at Fort Benning for training, I got a sense that God was calling me to something different than that,” Hopkins said. “It’s kind of hard to put words to it, but it was ultimately that there’s something bigger that people needed. So that got me looking toward the military chaplaincy at that point.”

Hopkins said the road to becoming a chaplain involves several steps. He first had to complete a lengthy application process to enter the Army Reserves as a chaplain candidate, which took nearly two years. He also must earn a master’s of divinity degree or equivalent and serve some time in civilian ministry.

In addition to those requirements, Hopkins must also attend a 13-week chaplain basic officer leader course in Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“That basically just gives an overview of the chaplain as a staff officer and also as a religious leader in the military context,” Hopkins said.

Hopkins said chaplains serve a couple of purposes. They provide for the free exercise of religion for soldiers and support the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, which allows soldiers the freedom to worship as they see fit. Hopkins said he has at least three or four more years left in the process before he will be eligible for the chaplaincy.

Depending on whether he decides to go into active duty or the reserves, Hopkins said he isn’t sure where the chaplaincy will lead him. Until then, Hopkins looks forward to helping his church grow and serving the community in the coming years.

“Part of the reason that I like the chaplaincy is because the ministry of the church doesn’t stay in the walls of a building,” Hopkins said. “The church is not a building; it’s a people. So we try to take that ministry outside to the community around us.”